Friday, 20 March 2015

This fundamental truth

John 7:1-2,10,25-30

Jesus said, “You know me, and know where I come from.” (Jn 7:28)

Amongst the Jews there were two traditions regarding the birth of the Messiah: that he would grow up in obscurity and be manifested to the world as an adult, or, that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem according to the prophecy in Micah (5:2). In fact the Messiah fulfilled both these expectations – His heavenly origin in the Holy Trinity is unknown to His hearers, and He was born in Bethlehem!

Who is Jesus? It is important for us to know the answer and from where He comes from. Unlike the founders of the world’s various religions (Mohammed, Buddha etc) Jesus offers us the unheard of gift of sharing in God’s very life. So, if Jesus does not come from God, of what value is the promise?

So we need to discover who Jesus is because it is through knowing Him that we come to salvation. And this is not just about learning by rote the church’s formulae of who Christ is (although that is a good start) but also internalising them and making them our own. We need to know the person of Jesus Christ in our hearts and minds.

This is why it can sometimes be better not to talk too much with someone who is beginning to come to faith. They need to find internally who Jesus is before they can develop and grow. We need to respect that inner journey. We need to pray for it to develop certainly, but too many words can be off-putting. What can be much more important is whether they see the truth of Jesus Christ in His followers!

So for each of us we need to ask deep within ourselves: who is Jesus for me? Does He come from the heavenly Father? Does He have the life of God to share with me? Do I respond to Him believing these things? What is holding me back from shaping my life based on this fundamental truth?

Fr Ian

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Blessed Spouse and Patron of the Church

Standing with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords, and also the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Queen of Angels, St Joseph tends to fade into the background somewhat. And this is of course understandable and to an extent quite right. However on this his day we do well to consider this man.

We do not have too much information about him beyond what the gospels tell us. His lineage is that of the House of David, but he is a humble artisan. He is betrothed to the Virgin Mary, who like him is of a poor Nazareth family. He is a carpenter; a man of wood and tools. We are told he was an upright man. For Joseph to be espoused to Our Lady, we can assume that her parents must have regarded him as a suitable husband for their remarkable and highly virtuous daughter.

As the drama of the Incarnation unfolds in the Gospels (especially Matthew and Luke) St Joseph receives his vocation by an angel in a dream. Here we receive a clue that St Joseph was a man of faith and discernment. He knew the truth of the dream, and he acted upon it decisively. How remarkable was the message the angel gave him! Yet Joseph obeyed his Lord through the Angel. This obedience led him to accept his betrothed in marriage as the Mother of God. As a husband and as guardian of the divine child he protected them from the forces of evil. In Bethlehem he thwarted Herod’s plan to eradicate challenges to the throne of David by once again trusting the message of the Angel in a dream. He led his family to Egypt for a time and then home to Nazareth where he could return to his trade. In the hidden life of Jesus’ childhood (hidden except for the incident in Jerusalem) we can only surmise that the fatherly and manly example of Joseph would positively influence the human nature of the Christ-child. We presume that Joseph died some time after Jesus had reached 12 years old (for he was with them on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem) and before Jesus’ own death, for Christ places His mother into the care of St John on the cross.

St Joseph was a man chosen by God and set apart. It was under his guardianship and fatherly care that Jesus was introduced into the world. Yes we honour and are indebted to the Virgin Mother because through her came the Christ, but after her we owe special gratitude for Saint Joseph. Christ does not now of course deny Joseph that intimacy, reverence and honour He had shown His foster-father on earth.

St Joseph is not patron, I believe, to any particular matter in human life (like other saints) except that he is patron of the whole Church. As he was chosen by God as guardian to the Holy Family so St Joseph continues to be guardian of all the brothers and sisters of Christ by adoption. Let us call on his intercession for protection from all evil and for guidance to walk the right path. May all earthly fathers find in him a worthy and chaste example to follow. May all men find in him an example to follow of honour and virtue.

Fr Ian

Act of consecration to St Joseph
I consecrate myself to you, good Saint Joseph, as my spiritual father; I choose you to rule my soul and teach me the interior life, the life hidden away with Jesus, Mary, and yourself.
I consecrate myself to you as my guide and model in all my duties so that I may learn to fulfil them with meekness and humility: with meekness toward my brethren, my neighbour, and all with whom I come in contact; with humility toward myself and simplicity before God.
I choose you, good Saint, as my counsellor, my confidant, my protector in all my difficulties and trials.  I do ask to be spared crosses and sufferings, but only from self-love which might vitiate their value by making me vain over them.
images (2)I choose you as protector for our family.  Good Saint Joseph, be our family’s father as you were the father of the Holy Family at Nazareth……I do not ask for temporal goods or for exterior success, nor for the joy of seeing it great and powerful. I ask only that it serve with fidelity and devotedness its Divine King.
For myself, I shall honour and love and serve you with Mary, my mother; never shall I separate her name from yours in my love.
Gladly would I be like you, Saint Joseph, a poor carpenter, unknown and despised, food for the roots of the tree, the Master’s gardener who never leaves the garden, who knows nothing but his plants, who loves only his flowers and sees only their fruits, and dies in the corner of his hut in the arms of Jesus and Mary.  We do not know the place of your burial, so we cannot honour your remains.  You leave behind you only your mantle of poverty and humility.
O Jesus, give me Joseph for a father as you have given me Mary as a mother.  Fill me with devotion, confidence, and filial love.  Listen to my prayer, please.  I know that you will.  Already I feel more devout, more full of hope and confidence in good Saint Joseph, your foster father and my adopted father.
by Saint Peter Julian Eymard

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

What is it like to be God the Son?

We are privileged to hear in today’s Gospel our Lord revealing something of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. Our Lord is responding to opposition amongst the Jews to what He is saying about His own equality with the heavenly Father.
The accusation “making himself God’s equal” is an accusation of some sort of megalomania, or we might say, “mega delusions of grandeur”. But our Lord is keen to emphasise that His relationship with the Father is not that of a wayward son drunk with power, but a relationship of both complete unity and also hierarchy. In God the Trinity there is both perfect unity and equality, but also hierarchy. As with much of our understanding of the life of God in the Trinity it is tricky to get our heads around it. We tend to try to project our own experience on to God which always results in dodgy theology. We tend to think equality and hierarchy are opposite and we have to choose between the two. We see this for example in politics with communism/socialism and feminism essentially rejecting hierarchy as something intrinsically wrong.
Our Lord does not project human ideas onto God of course, but is revealing to us the way the relationship is. The Son does nothing independent of the Father but does the Father’s will. The Father loves the Son and reveals to the Son everything the Father does. Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son gives life to anyone He chooses. Judgement has been given to the Son by the Father. And so those that honour the Son, honour the Father. And those that refuse to honour the Son refuse honour to the Father. The Father is the source of life and has made the Son the source of life. And because the Son is incarnate, because He is both divine and human, the Father has made the Son judge. Though as judge the Son judges as the Father tells Him to!
The inner life of the Holy Trinity as revealed by God the Son is also our goal as Christians, for we are called to divine life which is heaven. And so because the Church on earth (Church militant) is those journeying towards this divine life, the Church is structured both with hierarchy and with equality of communion. But this is a necessary part of preparing for heaven. Of course the Church militant gets it wrong* and we can develop the Church structure to make it closer to the divine life (especially through greater holiness), but nevertheless we cannot restructure the Church in order to fit in with contemporary, human ideas.
The Father has made the Son our judge because the Son knows what it is to be human. Judgement is not to do with a fearful figure wagging his finger in our direction, but our deeds themselves judging us and showing to what extent we were willing to cooperate with the grace our Saviour brings us through His self-giving on the Cross. Judgement is truth.
So let us continue our Lenten journey in the secure knowledge of God the Son’s giving of Himself for our salvation, and that our work is to cooperate with all the grace He is pouring on us, grace that is life for us.
Fr Ian
* Our Lord warned the Apostles against “lording” it over others ; though they were high up in the hierarchy of the Church they were to consider themselves servants. And this has been echoed by our recent Popes, not least, Pope Francis. Authority and power are given not to “lord” it over others, but in order to be able to serve them, more specifically, to bring them grace and order. That does not mean the hierarchy is greater than the laity, nor that the work of the hierarchy is more important than the laity. This is where clericalism comes in – trying to make the laity like clerics is clericalism. But for the Church to function well the laity need to be the laity, served by the clergy.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The Perseverance of the Paralytic

John 5:1-3,5-16

Thirty-eight years is a remarkably long time to wait for healing. St John Chrysostom comments that this perseverance of the paralytic should serve as an example to those who give in too easily when their prayers are not immediately answered. Despite his circumstances, and difficulty of entering the water in time, the man still has hope.

Thirty-eight years is also the time the Israelites sojourned in the desert after the rebellion at Kadesh, before they went through the waters of the Jordan into the Promised Land.

For many of the Fathers of the Church, this passage also alludes to baptism. At Bethesda the sick waited for the opportunity for bodily healing to take place whenever the waters were disturbed (they believed it was because of an angel), but water can heal the disease of the soul too. The waters of Baptism heal the soul and are much more abundant than the waters at this pool. In Baptism it is not an angel that descends but the Holy Spirit that descends to hover over the waters for the new creation. Jesus also later tells the man to make sure he sins no more. We do not know the sin of this man but it is clear his sins had been forgiven through the healing of Christ. In Baptism all our sins (both original and personal) are forgiven.

After waiting thirty-eight years the Israelites entered the Promised Land through the waters of the Jordan, it was not the end of their journey, but the beginning of a new phase in which they enjoyed the benefits of living in God’s Land that He promised, but also had to strive to live God’s ways obediently and with gratitude. The paralytic man healed by Jesus now began a new life striving to be free from sin. Though healed through Baptism, we still have work to do and must struggle not to sin again. The healed man was told to “arise”, “take up your bed” and “walk”. We too are bidden to not just remain where we are but to rise up with joy, to have mastery over our flesh and walk the way of the Cross that our Lord and Saviour has walked before us. And, oh yes, we are to strive to sin no more!

Fr Ian

Monday, 16 March 2015

Petitioning the Almighty

Jesus returns to Galilee from Jerusalem and returns to Cana, the site of His first Sign (changing water into wine). Now a court official approaches him petitioning healing for his son who is dying.
Though the Lord God knows our need He desires we ask for help. Why? He desires that we reach out to him. He desires we establish, maintain and deepen a relationship with him. He desires us to know that we are not autonomous.

What is a good way to petition God for our needs? The first step of the prayer of petition is in fact a prayer asking for forgiveness. We need to make our hearts pure and our intentions righteous, before we ask for something. We need the prayer of the tax collector: “God be merciful to me a sinner.” (Lk 18:13) It is with a humble and trusting disposition that our prayers can be heard in the first place. This disposition is necessary both for preparation for Mass and for personal prayer.

Also our hearts need to be filled with hope – we need to be searching for God’s Kingdom to come. After a humble and contrite disposition we need to petition first for the Kingdom of God, asking for what is necessary to welcome it and what we need to cooperate with the coming Kingdom. By doing this we align ourselves with the whole mission of the Church, and unite our intentions with the apostolic community.
Then in humble trust and within the whole mission of the Church we make our particular petitions known to God. Every need we have can be brought to God. Both St James and St Paul exhort us to pray at all times and by this they mean for us to bring all our needs to God in prayer.

Finally we must remember that perseverance is often necessary in order to prove our trust. Like the persistent widow we often must ask over and over again.

When our prayer is pure and humble, when it is aligned within the apostolic mission of the Church, and when we are willing to persevere to show our trust in our Father’s care, God will answer our prayers as is most expedient for us.

Fr Ian

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)